PRODUCTHEAD: Empathy with the engineering team

PRODUCTHEAD: Empathy with the engineering team

PRODUCTHEAD is a regular newsletter of product management goodness,
curated by Jock Busuttil.

product daylight #


Create space for your engineering team, understand the ebbs and flows of work, and help them to avoid burn-out

Work to understand the technical complexities facing the engineering team

Engineers typically focus on a small number of large tasks

Product and engineering overlap: clarify who does what

a favour: please share this with other product people

every PRODUCTHEAD edition is online for you to refer back to


This week … I’m frazzled. I’m in need of several hours of additional sleep.

Why? I’ve spent the week going through a painful cycle: realising I had at best a superficial knowledge of something; that what I had assumed was backwards and upside-down; followed by long hours of learning, making mistakes, and learning some more.

In this case, it was figuring out why the internet connection I rely on for work was suddenly having performance anxiety.

tl;dr — after much confusion, and the unrelated distraction of a server with a broken cooling fan catching fire, I figured out that my TV had unilaterally mounted a denial of service attack by flooding the network with crap, which was causing the broadband router to freeze up.

I take some comfort from the valuable dose of empathy this has given me. When working with software development / engineering teams, even though they’re working with relatively known technologies, sometimes things just don’t work as advertised. Sometimes there’s just a random factor that’s throwing the proverbial spanner in the works.

It’s incredible frustrating to diagnose what’s going on, it’s easy to start obsessing about the problem, and being under undue pressure to find a fix is rarely helpful. Nevertheless, it helps to be pulled out when stuck too deep in the rabbit hole.

No matter how painful the process is, even if the solution is to take a different approach, your team will come away with a deeper understanding of what’s actually going on, and this will always be useful for the next weird problem they encounter.

I’ve said it before: developers are miracle workers. They turn a product vision into reality and make it look easy. Show them some extra love this week.

I gained another valuable reminder: unlearning a bunch of assumptions in order to learn what’s really going on can take way more effort than expected. This is especially the case when these incorrect assumptions had become deep-rooted beliefs.

I think people sometimes cling to their beliefs, even though they’re aware they’re wrong, simply to avoid a feeling of being totally lost at sea. The sense of helplessness that can come with not understanding is uncomfortable and discouraging. It’s much easier — emotionally and cognitively — to continue to believe in the incorrect thing.

So whether it’s a senior stakeholder who doesn’t understand why a product is taking so long to deliver, or a peer bewildered by the new, shiny framework their team wants to adopt, be supportive and kind. Learning new stuff can be painful.

Speak to you soon,


what to think about this week

5 characteristics I want in a product manager (from an engineer)

Have you worked with an amazing Product Manager who was phenomenal at their job and building a product together was fun and effortless at times? Or maybe you have butted heads or wished your Product Manager was more than someone that just “told you what to build”? I have had experience on this spectrum and have 5 characteristics that I want in a Product Manager going forward to truly enjoy working with them and build great products together.

Be a good partner to engineering

[Andrew Courter / Medium]

Marrying product management and engineering with Maura Kelly

Maura Kelly is VP of Engineering at Mailchimp. With over 17 years of experience in the tech industry, Maura is an expert in software development and programming. She joins Melissa Perri on this week’s Product Thinking Podcast to provide engineering’s point of view, and to share helpful tips that will improve the way you as a product manager are collaborating with developers.

“Engineers want to work on stuff that matters”

[Melissa Perri / Produx Labs]

From software developer to product manager: meet Maria van Keulen

Maria joined MongoDB a bit over five years ago and recently transitioned from Software Engineering to Product Management. I had the opportunity to learn about what Maria’s transition was like and how her experiences as a Senior Software Engineer have helped her succeed as a Product Manager.

Product managers focus on problems, engineers on solutions

[Hannah Friedfeld / MongoDB]

How can I work better with my product manager, as an engineering lead?

As an engineering lead, I’m struggling to come to a good working relationship with my product manager. We seem to overlap on who is doing what, but some things get dropped as well. I feel I am doing work that they really should be picking up – and I am missing having a product vision coming from them.

What are things I can do to get to a better relationship, and work more efficiently with the product team?

The tension between what and why to do and how to do it

[Gergely Orosz / The Pragmatic Engineer]

recent posts

Billion-dollar platforms — how they did it

I was asked recently whether platforms will conquer the world. My view? They already have. In this article I share how they’ve done it, and how you can successfully bring your own platform to market.

The ingredients for success

[I Manage Products]

An exercise in stakeholder alignment

When your stakeholders each have their own interpretations of the product strategy, this lack of stakeholder alignment will cause you no end of problems. Here’s what you can do about it.

A practical exercise you can run

[I Manage Products]

The 4 unintended side-effects of risk aversion and what to do about them

When we become more worried about risk, four unintended things also tend to happen: bottlenecking, erosion of trust, ossification of process, and a risk appetite that tends towards zero. Here’s what you can do about them.

It’s all about the safety net

[I Manage Products]

can we help you?

Product People is a product management services company. We can help you through consultancy, training and coaching. Just contact us if you need our help!

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Helping people build better products, more successfully, since 2012.

PRODUCTHEAD is a newsletter for product people of all varieties, and is lovingly crafted from unnecessary amounts of PAUSE ethernet frames.

Read more from Jock

The Practitioner's Guide to Product Management book cover

The Practitioner's Guide To Product Management

by Jock Busuttil

“This is a great book for Product Managers or those considering a career in Product Management.”

— Lyndsay Denton

Jock Busuttil is a freelance head of product, product management coach and author. He has spent over two decades working with technology companies to improve their product management practices, from startups to multinationals. In 2012 Jock founded Product People Limited, which provides product management consultancy, coaching and training. Its clients include BBC, University of Cambridge, Ometria, Prolific and the UK’s Ministry of Justice and Government Digital Service (GDS). Jock holds a master’s degree in Classics from the University of Cambridge. He is the author of the popular book The Practitioner’s Guide To Product Management, which was published in January 2015 by Grand Central Publishing in the US and Piatkus in the UK. He writes the blog I Manage Products and weekly product management newsletter PRODUCTHEAD. You can find him on Mastodon, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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